Wheathampstead is a very pretty village, and on a summer evening, we love to walk near the river there. Oxscale restaurant opened a few months ago, and is easily found on the corner next to the church in the heart of the village. It is a lovely building; as you walk through the main entrance you pass a cosy bar area and open courtyard through to the main dining area. A large olive tree grows in the centre of the courtyard and on a summer evening, the restaurant is a light and stylish place to eat.
Co-owner Richard Cramer comes from a well-known family of butchers, who traded at Smithfields for many years. Richard trained as a chef and worked at Auberge Du Lac at Brocket Hall with Phil Thompson and more recently at Lussmanns, so he knows a lot about the area and what people will like. The menu at Oxscale is “tapas, steak and fish”, and Richard is very focused on good sourcing, with meat from the family business and fish from local supplier Stickleback. Richard dry-ages the steaks in his own fridge at the family site, so the quality is excellent. After many years working in Majorca, Richard was keen to bring tapas culture to his restaurant, and the idea for Oxscale was born. I was very interested to see what the fish is like too, as we have very few good places to eat fish locally.
Piotr Bularz (chef) and Richard Cramer (owner)
Our waiter brought a large jug of water and bread (no charge) without being asked, which I like. The specials menu focused on fish, and it all sounded great; I chose the whole mackerel with salad from the main menu, and it was chargrilled on the outside and juicy inside. It was good value too, as for the same price in other restaurants, you often just get a fillet. I asked for lemon to squeeze over it, and this was brought quickly.
The family chose tapas dishes: a pan con tomate, alitas de pollo, gambas a la plancha, pimiento padron and a tortilla. We ordered salads and triple-cooked chips to share. When we ordered, manager Justin said that ordering from the tapas and the main menu might mean the food comes at different times. I asked if they could try to bring it at roughly the same time, and they did.
The tapas prawns were a hit, as were the nicely spiced alitas chicken wings. The tomatoes on the toast were fridge-cold, which was a shame, as the tomatoes were perfectly ripe and could have had more flavour. The tortilla was soft in the middle, which is traditional, but possibly too soft compared to the outside. Puds were lovely; the chocolate fondant and white chocolate mousse were delicious.
I had a cold glass of Belstar cuvee rose when we arrived, which was perfect on a warm evening. The wine and beer menu is mostly Spanish, to reflect the tapas menu, which I think works well. Calvors bottled lager will soon appear on the menu, which is produced by Richard’s cousin in Suffolk.
The restaurant was very busy, which was lovely to see, so make sure you book ahead. Justin is a natural host, and during a busy patch in the evening, the service was a little slow, and without prompting he took 10% off the bill to apologise for what he felt was slower service than normal.
After dinner it was still warm enough to explore the village, and we walked around the church past the crinkle-crankle walls, and over the road to the river, footbridge and fields. It’s a good local restaurant, and for those from further away, a summery evening exploring Wheathampstead with dinner at Oxscale is perfect.
Oscale, 1 Church Street, Wheathampstead, AL4 8AP. http://www.oxscale.com (01582 623047). Open for booking Tues-Thurs 6-9.30, Fri-Sat 12-10. Sunday lunch in Autumn.